Recently, National Geographic Magazine published an article by Tracie McMillan on the often unseen faces of hunger in the United States. What does it take to eat and eat well in a struggling economy with dwindling resources for low-income individuals and families, who have few options other than fast food joints and local bodegas that often lack fresh produce?
The visual of hunger produced in our minds does not often appear as families in multi-level homes with a car at their disposal. Hunger is not synonymous with homelessness, and more commonly is a choice between food or shelter, heat or transportation, medication or keeping the lights on. There are a plethora of causes for food insecurity in the United States, ranging from disability and mental illness to low levels of educational attainment and overall institutional oppression. None of the causes are exclusive and can fall upon nearly anyone at anytime.
In Lawrence, we see the faces of hunger in the working poor, in those who have experienced trauma, in those suffering from all-consuming addictions, and in those experiencing housing instability, maybe for decades and maybe for the first time, among many others whose stories will never be understood. They represent the diversity of the world several times over, but they all have commonalities: they must eat, they must be clothed, and they must see a doctor from time to time. And they deserve all of these things with love, empathy, respect, dignity… I could go on.
SNAP benefits are being cut while the cost of nutritious food continues to rise exponentially. The country’s 50,000 emergency food programs – soup kitchens and food pantries, etc. – work hard daily to fill the gaps, but there will always be those who lack access to and knowledge of these resources. Food deserts grow larger, leaving low-income individuals to be pumped full of foods with low nutritional value, severely affecting their overall health and quality of life. How do we reverse this narrative?
Justice takes many forms and the right path is often messy and unclear. Is it a hot meal, a well drafted political statement, or a few extra dollars in someone’s pocket? The weight of injustice can make it hard to breathe, never-mind leaving us with enough wherewithal to fight it. As allies to those struggling to feed themselves under the crushing weight of structural maltreatment, it is our responsibility to use our position, resources, and energy to support and empower with the means we have at our disposal, with whatever skills we have to bring to the table. We cannot let health, wellbeing, and dignity continue on their path to becoming a luxury.